A message that won’t go unnoticed

December 23, 2018

Parenting means paperwork, and once a child enters the school system the blizzard of forms, reminders and permission slips grows every year. Add to that homework and morning work and artwork that demands to be hung on the refrigerator or surreptitiously thrown away, and then add a second schoolchild into the mix, and the mass of paper arriving every day is quickly overwhelming.

Some notices, though, cut through. For instance, a notice from the principal about a threat at your child’s school.

In this case, the scope of the threat was vague from the start and only grew more confusing. Still, we were told the threat didn’t happen on school grounds. It was apparently directed at a specific group of students, not the school writ large. And it was apparently taken seriously by the school administration from the beginning, as these things must be. “All district, law enforcement, and crisis response protocols were and will continue to be followed,” the principal said in a message to parents.

The initial response was commensurate to the issue. No one panicked, but no one was about to overlook a potentially serious situation. Soon, though, came a town-wide decision that a standard response wasn’t enough.

There’s already security on hand, with police officers rotating their presence at the town’s public schools throughout the day. That suddenly seemed insufficient.

Within days, plans were in the works to hire armed school security officers who would be on hand in addition to the existing police presence. The town allocated funds to pay for the initial hiring, with the first selectman explaining that the officer would be equipped with a gun, bulletproof vest, bodycam and other police equipment.

The selectmen, Board of Finance and Board of Education, as well as most parents at a public hearing, supported the effort. The consensus was that taking this action would without question make the schools safer.

It would be nice if it were that easy.

We’re talking about my child’s school here, so if it meant stationing the 82nd Airborne on campus to guarantee the school’s safety I’d be all for it. But in the real world, what we should want is something that really would increase safety, rather than one that might only make people feel better.

The added security officers are, are according to a selectman, required to be retired police officers, so it’s not as though the town is bringing people in off the street. Still, an armed guard means a gun in the school, which can bring potential dangers all by itself.

It’s not as though accidents can’t happen. Just in the past few years, there was a sheriff in Michigan who accidentally left his gun behind in a middle school. A school resource officer in Florida who left his gun in a school’s faculty bathroom. There was a loaded gun found in a Pennsylvania school that was determined to have been left behind by a local security guard. (All these examples were compiled by the writer David Waldman.)

These are anecdotes, and they don’t add up to a reason to keep security out of schools. But the should maybe give us pause. At the same time, we have seen examples where armed guards were unable to stop a catastrophe.

There is data that shows, in spite of high-profile incidents, that school is an incredibly safe place to have children spend their days.

But you also can’t wish away a problem. Dangers exist. Some threats are real, and none can be ignored.

If it sounds like I’m equivocating it’s because I am. I don’t know the best way to ensure security at schools or anywhere else. I certainly don’t blame parents for wanting more security or the town for responding. Schools are safe places until they aren’t.

What I do know is that it becomes much more than a theoretical question when the threatened school is your child’s.


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